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Blind Bartimaeus’ Cloak

October 28th, 2018, Pastor Galen

Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Mark 10:46-52

Jim Elliot, a missionary to South America who gave his life for the sake of the Gospel, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

The truth is that everything we have here on this earth is temporary. As much as we may try, we cannot hold onto the things of this life forever. But gaining eternal life with Christ, knowing Jesus, and being in God’s presence, is what will last forever. Gaining eternal life with Christ is something that cannot be taken away from us.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have nice things here on this earth. But the problem is that so many people spend their whole lives trying to amass as many things as possible. But we can’t take it with us when we die. (When I was growing up, my pastor used to say, “I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul behind it!”)

Our readings from the book of Job this month remind us that everything we have can be gone in an instant. Job was a good man, a righteous man (Job 1:1). He had a wonderful family, a nice house, and many expensive things. But when tragedy struck, he was left with only his wife, a few close friends, and his faith and dependence on God. In the end, Job’s fortune was restored, but along the way he learned to depend completely and utterly on God. He learned that God was all he needed.

Blind Bartimaeus

In our Gospel Lesson this morning, we see an example of a man who consciously chose to give up everything he had in order to follow Christ. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar, and in truth, as a beggar he didn’t have much to begin with. But as we will see, he gave up even the little bit that he had in order to gain what he could not lose.

The story of blind Bartimaeus concludes a fascinating string of events in Mark Chapter 10, that began with the story of Jesus welcoming little children. Although his disciples tried to prevent them from bothering Jesus, Jesus said that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14) and that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).

There is then a would-be follower of Jesus, a rich young man, who, because of his great wealth, passes up the opportunity to follow Jesus. Was it fear, anxiety, or just a general ambivalence that prevented him from giving up everything he had in order to follow Christ? We may never know, but it leads into an acknowledgement that Jesus’ core disciples had in fact given up everything, and Jesus promising them that it will be worth it in the end, that according to Jesus, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Jesus tells his disciples that he himself will give up everything – that he will give his life for the sake of those who believe in him. Jesus said that he would “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus’ disciples  want to be great in the kingdom of God, and two of his disciples ask to sit on his right and left when the kingdom of God is established, but Jesus reminds them that those who are truly great are those who serve others.

And now we come to the story of blind Bartimaeus. Once again, people try to silence him, to prevent him from bothering Jesus, just as they tried to silence the children. But just as he welcomed the children, Jesus welcomes blind Bartimaeus. Jesus stops right where he is, right in the middle of the road. He tells the bystanders to call Bartimaeus to him, turning the rebukers into active participants in bringing Bartimaeus to Jesus.

Bartimaeus’ Cloak

And then Bartimaeus does something that is amazing, surprising and astounding. Blind Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, jumps to his feet, and runs to Jesus.

Now why is it amazing that he throws off his cloak? Well, for most people living in first century Palestine, a person’s cloak was their most valuable possession. Cloaks were expensive, thick, heavy garments, and the average person could only afford one. Cloaks weren’t simply outer garments meant to be worn outdoors, nor were they fashion statements. Cloaks were functional, multipurpose garments. In addition to functioning as a coat in cold weather, they were also used as a blanket at nighttime. And, for a blind beggar like Bartimaeus, he most likely spread his cloak out in front of him during the daytime to collect any coins or loose change that passerbys might toss his way.

Bartimaeus’ cloak, then was all that he had. It was his source of protection from harsh weather, his blanket at night, and the tool of his trade. But when Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus casts his cloak aside, jumps to his feet, and comes to Jesus.

Bartimaeus had an enormous amount of faith. In an instant he tossed aside his most valuable possession, without any care or concern. As a blind man in the middle of a crowd of people, it would have been understandable to hold onto his cloak, just in case. Just in case Jesus can’t or won’t heal him. Just in case his sight is not restored. Just in case he returns after his encounter with Jesus still unable to see. Just in case he needs to continue begging for the rest of his life.

But Bartimaeus is confident in Jesus. He trusts that not only Jesus can, but will give him sight. He believes he won’t need to continue begging. He knows that his life will be forever changed because of this encounter with Jesus.

In throwing off his cloak and jumping to his feet, Bartimaeus displays a child-like trust and dependence on Jesus. Like a toddler who jumps up and down when their parent walks in the door, Bartimaeus leaps to his feet. And like a child who doesn’t need to worry because they know that their parent will take care of them, Bartimaeus places his full trust in Jesus.

Jesus does in fact heal him. Bartimaeus’ sight is restored. We can only imagine the jubilation that Bartimaeus must have felt, to be able to see! But Mark does not dwell on this fact long — he simply tells us that Bartimaeus “followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:52).

In choosing to follow Jesus, Bartimaeus does what the rich young man chose not to do. Bartimaeus leaves it all behind to follow Jesus. No mention that he searches around for his cloak or went back home to tell his family goodbye. He doesn’t bother to stoop down and scrape together the loose coins that he had collected through begging, or even to look smugly at those who had formerly rebuked him for bothering Jesus.

He simply follows Jesus along the road. So simple, and yet so profound.

Gaining What We Cannot Lose

You see, Bartimaeus discovered the truth that Jim Elliot talked about —  that “he is no fool” who gives up the things that he cannot keep anyway, in order to gain what he cannot lose.

Bartimaeus knew that there was nothing more valuable, nothing more significant, than being with Jesus. He knew that nothing in this life matters as much as gaining Christ.

Many of us here in this room, like the disciples, and like blind Bartimaeus, have given up much in order to follow Christ. Many of you consistently give of your time, your talents, your resources to support the work and the ministries of our church. For some of you, following Jesus has been costly when it comes to relationships with your friends and family members.  Even coming to church on Sunday mornings is a sacrifice of your time, but you have chosen to be here, to worship God, to participate in the life of our church community. You have chosen to cast everything aside, to come and follow Jesus along the way.

Some of you may wonder if it’s worth it? Has your sacrifice been in vain? Have the hours and resources that you have poured into serving God been a good use of your time and talents?

I want to tell you this morning that your sacrifice has not been in vain. That what you have given up will be more than returned to you — if not in this life, at least in the age to come (Mark 10:30).

I believe that blind Bartimaeus was able to see something that so many people cannot see — that the most important thing in this world is to be in God’s presence. Job learned it when he lost it all. The children knew it instinctively. The disciples finally got it after several years of being with Jesus. But Bartimaeus understood it right away. Being with Jesus is worth more than anything else in this world.

The “Jesus Prayer”

One of the ways we can be with Jesus is through prayer. Prayer is simply communicating with God. In prayer we express our dependence on God and our devotion to God. And when we pray, God expresses God’s love for us.

The words that blind Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus when Jesus was passing by have often been called “The Jesus Prayer.” “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:27). “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is a prayer that we can pray daily, even throughout the day. It is a prayer that expresses our need for Jesus and our dependence on God. It is a prayer that can be prayed when we are in a time of trial and testing like Job, when we are feeling desperate like Bartimaeus. It is a prayer that we can pray while driving in our car, while walking down the street, while lying in our beds at night. It is a prayer that we can pray when we don’t know what else to pray. It is a prayer that reminds us that we are all like children, in need of God’s mercy and provision.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” I would encourage us to pray this prayer frequently, and to remember that it is not foolish to give up the things that we cannot keep anyway, to gain what we cannot lose.

Jesus Can Relate

October 14th, 2018, Pastor Galen

“…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

“I know what It’s Like to Be in Need”

My first job after college was working as a bank teller. I don’t know if any of you have ever worked in a bank or not, but one of the interesting realities of working in a bank is that, although I had a tremendous amount of responsibility and handled thousands and thousands of dollars on a daily basis, I actually made very little money. As a bank teller I made just slightly above minimum wage, and although I had access to a lot of money at work, I got to take home very little of it. (My brother used to joke that banking is one of those industries where you are definitely not allowed to take your work home with you).

One day, a well-dressed, middle-aged woman walked into our branch with a story about how she had been driving through the city and her car ran out of gas, and she didn’t have any money and had lost her ATM card and credit cards. She wanted to see if we could help her out by giving her some money to fill her gas tank and help her get back on the road.

Now, nothing in my rather extensive two weeks of intensive bank teller training had prepared me for a question like this. Although indeed we were in the business of handing out money, we weren’t allowed to give it out freely to anyone who asked for it.

And, although we were in a rather under-resourced area of Baltimore city, and if you walked outside for any length of time it was common to be approached by someone asking for money, I had never actually had someone come into the bank and make a request like this.

I stood there slightly dumbfounded not sure what to do. I had several thousand dollars in my drawer at the time, and even just $10 would have helped her out, but I knew I couldn’t just give it to her. I looked at the bank teller next to me, who shrugged her shoulders and said, “ask Shanika.”

Shanika was our assistant head teller. She was a tattooed single mother of three with a raspy voice and a soft heart. So I called her over, explained the situation, and without another word, Shanika turned around, grabbed her own purse, reached inside, and drew out a $10 or $20 bill and handed it through the bullet-proof glass to the woman on the other side of the counter.

As the woman walked out the door, the other bank tellers and I stared at Shanika. We knew that, even though she was our supervisor, she didn’t make much more money than us. As a single mother, we knew that money was probably tight for her, as it was for all of us. We also knew that she didn’t know this woman, that she had no way of knowing if the woman were telling the truth or not, and that she would probably never see that money again.

Shanika turned and saw us staring at her, and said, “What? I know what it’s like to be in need, and I would want someone to do the same for me if I were in that situation.”

“I know what it’s like to be in need.” Shanika knew firsthand what it was like to be in need. Although the other woman was a stranger, of a completely different cultural background and stage in life, Shanika was able to empathize with this woman and respond accordingly. Why? Because she knew what it was like to be in need.

Jesus Has Been There Too

The author of Hebrews proclaims that “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

In other words, Jesus knows what it’s like to be in need. Jesus has walked in our shoes. God understands us. God gets it. The beauty of the incarnation — that God became a person and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ — is that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus knows what it’s like to be one of us. Jesus left the splendors of heaven to come down to this earth and to live among us.

Jesus walked on this earth for 33 years. He was born as a baby — vulnerable, innocent, completely dependent on his parents and those around him. Jesus went through childhood, puberty, adolescence, and young adulthood.  He felt hunger, thirst, sadness, pain, joy, and sorrow. He experienced dreams that were unfulfilled, hopes and longings that were never realized. He suffered rejection and betrayal, and grieved the loss of a close friend.

Not only that, but Jesus knew what it was like to be homeless. As an adult, he said that “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

Jesus knew what it was like to be poor. As an infant, when his parents took him to the temple to consecrate him before the Lord, they sacrificed two pigeons, which was a provision in the law for those who could not afford a lamb.

As a young child, Jesus’s parents were forced to flee to the country of Egypt in order to prevent King Herod from killing him. Jesus knows what it’s like to be an immigrant, and a fugitive fleeing persecution.

Jesus’s father was a carpenter, a term that referred not only to craftsmen, but also to builders and construction workers. Jesus knows what it’s like to work hard and to make very little money.

And, as we know, Jesus was arrested, falsely accused, stripped, beaten, and killed. Jesus knows what it’s like to be incarcerated, publicly humiliated, and treated unjustly.

No matter what we experience in life, Jesus knows what it’s like. Jesus can relate. Jesus has been there too.

Jesus Faced Temptation

The author of Hebrews reminds us that not only can Jesus relate to our weaknesses, but Jesus can also relate to any temptation we may face. Jesus “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

This is difficult for us to get our minds around, because it is so difficult for us to avoid giving into temptation that so often we confuse temptation with sin itself. But we see here that it’s possible to be tempted, and yet not sin.  

Each of us is prone to different sorts of temptations. What is tempting for some of us might be repulsive to others of us. I love chocolate. So much  so that if we have chocolate in the house, it’s really difficult for me not to eat it. My wife, on the other hand, only likes certain types of chocolate candy, and even then she could pretty much take it or leave it. It’s very easy for her to resist eating chocolate candy.

But Jesus knows what it’s like to crave chocolate — or whatever it is that’s a temptation to us. Jesus faced every temptation that we face, but did not sin.

…and Yet Did Not Sin

Now, we might expect the author of Hebrews to say that, since Jesus experienced all of the same temptations that we face and yet did not sin, therefore we can avoid sin too!

But instead, the author of Hebrews points out that we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy.” Because Jesus knows what it’s like to be face whatever situations we encounter in life, Jesus is ready and waiting to extend mercy and grace to us in our time of need. We never have to be afraid to ask God for help. We never have to be embarrassed or ashamed. Whatever it is that we’re going through, whatever doubts we’re having, whatever our weaknesses, whatever our desires or temptations, Jesus has been there too.

So many people think that God is somewhere up in heaven just ready to stomp on us as soon as we mess up, or that God is some cold detached being somewhere far off in the sky who doesn’t understand us or can’t relate to us, or worse, that God is somewhere watching from a distance, laughing at us as we struggle through life.

But instead, we see that in Jesus, God is right here with us. God is with us in the pain and struggles of life. God is present us in our weakness. God is right next to us in our temptations. God understands our struggles. God knows what it’s like to walk in our shoes.

And God is ready and waiting to help us out in our time of need, because God knows what it’s like to be in need.

We Should Be Merciful Too

Because God is ready and willing to extend mercy, grace, and compassion to us, let us be people who extend grace and compassion to others as well. Let us be people who are marked by love. Let us learn to empathize with others in their weaknesses, and let us be bearers of God’s grace and mercy to those around us.

Jesus Welcomed Children

October 7th, 2018, Pastor Galen

“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14).

So often in our society children are seen as a disruption. Children distract us from the seemingly more “important” adult things that we have to say and do. In truth, children require a lot of time and attention, in a society where time is often in short supply for adults. Children are completely and utterly dependent on others, in a society that values independence. Interacting with children requires us to get down to their level, in a society that’s all about upward mobility.

And yet Jesus welcomed the little children to come to him, and said that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

I like to imagine what this scene must have looked like. In the previous verses, Jesus had been outside, speaking in front of a large audience, engaging in an intense public debate with some of the most prominent religious figures of his day.

Now, according to Mark 10, Jesus is in a house with just his disciples, debriefing the public spectacle that just took place. But while they’re relaxing in the house, people start bringing their children to Jesus asking him to bless them. I like to imagine this scene in the house, with Jesus holding a child on his knee, other children crowding around asking to be held. Toys strewn everywhere, one child fussing, other children running around, chasing each other around the table. Parents, grateful for a few minutes of reprieve as Jesus occupies their child, begin commiserating with the other parents in the room about the challenges of potty training and life with toddlers.

As a parent, it always blesses my heart when someone is willing to take the time to converse with my children — when they’re willing to stop what they are doing, to get down to their level, to look them in the eye, to ask them a question, and to really try to get to know them.

So often as a parent I feel like I’m walking on pins and needles when we’re out in public. What if our 2-year-old throws a tantrum? If so, how will the adults in the room respond? Will we be reprimanded, shushed, asked to leave? One of the most amazing feelings is in those times where my child is being fussy, and an adult responds not with criticism or a harsh word, but instead with a word of grace, or blessing for us or our child.

A few weeks ago, we were enjoying brunch at one of the wonderful dining establishments around the corner on The Avenue, and our 2-year-old was getting restless. She had finished her food and didn’t want to stay in her seat, so she started to walk around and around our table. We were distracted in conversation, but a few minutes later the owner of the restaurant started walking towards us. My pulse quickened as I feared she was going to reprimand us for allowing our child to walk around in the restaurant and potentially disrupting the other customers. Instead, she reached out and handed a wonderful little bowl of strawberries and blueberries to our child, which served to both occupy and satisfy her, and to show us that we were indeed welcome in her establishment.

It was this sort of interaction that Jesus had with children. Jesus’s disciples actually verbally rebuked the parents for bringing their children and interrupting Jesus. But Jesus was in fact indignant — but not at the parents or even the children, but instead at his disciples for wanting to prevent the children from coming to him!

Jesus welcomed and blessed the children and taught his disciples to do the same. He took the time to converse with children, to get down to their level and to get to know them. Jesus blessed them, spoke kind words over them. Jesus had a heart of love of compassion for all people, including and especially children.

Children and the Mission of our Church

Over the past few months since I’ve been pastoring here, I’ve been trying to learn and listen and observe the needs of the surrounding community. At the same time I’ve been taking stock of what are some of the assets of our church, some of the ways that we’re already meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people in the community, and some of the ways that perhaps we could even expand our outreach and impact into the community.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of families in this community, many of whom may not attend church regularly. And so I’ve been thinking about some of the ways we can attract families to come to church, and I was thinking about the fact that we have a great kids ministry on Sunday mornings and wonderful monthly family nights, and how we could maybe leverage our kids ministry to attract families with children. Parents can come to church with their children, they can know that their children are downstairs having fun and learning great biblical truths in children’s church, while the adults are upstairs worshiping God in reverence and peace and quiet.

But this past week I’ve been convicted that my thinking has been skewed. You see, I had been seeing our children’s ministry primarily as a strategy for attracting families to come to church, as a means to reach the parents. But this week God has been convicting me that children are not simply a tactic for community outreach or even a strategy for church growth. Children themselves are valuable to Jesus, and therefore they should be valuable to us as well. If Jesus can take time to welcome and bless children, so can I, and so can we. I don’t think this is a radical shift for many of you, but I know it is for me. I hope that we are and can continue to be a church that welcomes children like Jesus did.

“…the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”

Not only did Jesus welcome children, he taught his disciples that “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14) and that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15).

In other words, there’s a lot that children have to teach us, and a lot that we as adults can learn from children. Children have an intrinsic love, trust, and dependence on God that we would do well to observe and incorporate into our own lives.

Although we often highlight the simplicity and innocence of children, children can be very deep thinkers as well. They often have incredible insight and grasp things that we as adults often don’t understand. I know that my own children have taught me so much about God and about the world.

Each of my children has their own personalities and perspectives on the world. Our oldest daughter tends to be incredibly optimistic like me. But my middle daughter tends to be much more realistic about the challenges and difficulties of life, even at the age of nine. She has always had a particular heart for the homeless and for people who are asking for food or money. It really bothers her when she sees people who are in need, and I think even at her young age she has a strong grasp of injustice.

Several years ago when she was even younger, we were driving in our car and we saw a store that was named “Life is Good.” You may have seen t-shirts or merchandise with those words before. My daughter asked about the meaning of that slogan, and my older daughter and I immediately responded with something to the effect of, “Well, you know, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Life is good, so we should enjoy it!”

And then my 5 or 6-year-old daughter said something that will probably forever change the way that I think about the world. She looked up and said, “But life is not good for everyone!” Even at the young age of 5 or 6, my daughter had a grasp of inequality and injustice and the harshness and reality of life for so many people that I so often ignored. I for one have so much to learn not only from my own children, but from all of the children of our church and community.

The Church of Tomorrow — And Today

My friends, children are not just the Church of tomorrow. They are the church of today. Children have a lot to teach us, if we will only stop to listen and learn from them. Children do need to be taught moral guidance and biblical truths, but they also have an intrinsic trust and knowledge of God and the world, and we as adults would do well to learn from them.

It is my hope and prayer that we can take Jesus’s command to heart, to let the little children come to Him. Let us as a church welcome children with God’s love, and let’s allow them to show us what it means to enter more fully into the Kingdom of God.

Flood

September 39, 2018, Pastor Galen

Psalm 124

Psalm 124 says, “if the Lord had not been on our sidethe flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away” (Psalm 124:2, 4-5).

I have never been caught in a flood. But I do know from personal experience that water can be an incredibly destructive force.

One summer a few years ago someone broke in and stole the copper pipes from the vacant house that was attached to our house. This of course caused the neighbor’s basement to flood, overflowing into our finished basement apartment, causing us thousands of dollars of damage. That same summer a tornado peeled back part of our roof. This was followed by three days of rain, which caused another several thousand dollars worth of interior damage to our house.

We need to drink water in order to live, we need rain for our crops to grow. But water can be both a blessing and a curse.

“The Flood Would Have Engulfed Us”

About a month ago, my parents were caught in a torrential rain storm with rising flood waters. They were driving on the highway when it started to downpour, and they came upon water flooding over the right lane of traffic. The water looked muddy and they couldn’t really see how deep the water was, but rather than proceeding through the water they stopped. The water was rising fast and they could feel the water rushing underneath their car, so they backed up and got over to the shoulder and waited over an hour until the rain subsided. They said that water rushing in the gully along the side of the road looked like a fast-moving creek.

When they did finally resume driving they saw cars partially submerged in the water, and many more cars that were trapped, where people had to be evacuated.

All in all, 10 1/2 inches of rain fell within a couple of hours in the Mt. Joy, PA area, which was a historic record. A nearby trailer park was severely flooded, and quite a few homes were damaged.

I am grateful for the wisdom and patience that God gave to my parents and that they didn’t try to drive through the flood waters. If it had not been for the Lord on the side of my parents, “the flood would have engulfed [them], the torrent would have swept over [them] the raging waters would have swept [them] away” (Psalm 124:4-5)!

This month we’ve been talking about Creation. We talked about how nature reveals God’s glory and majesty, and how we as people have been tasked with the care and conservation of the earth. But so often we have acted irresponsibly, sometimes intentionally but many times unintentionally bringing harm and damage to the earth and to us.

But we’ve also seen that nature itself can also be incredibly destructive. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes cause incredibly devastation.

Nature is a powerful force. But the Psalmist reminds us this morning that as powerful and as destructive as nature can be, God is even greater. Although so many times we feel vulnerable and powerless before nature, we must remember that God is on our side, and that God has the ability to step in, to intervene, and even to reverse the laws of nature. In the Gospels we see that Jesus calmed a storm and fed 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and fish. Jesus turned water into wine, healed people who were sick, cast out demons, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame walk, and brought dead people back to life. In each of these instances Jesus reversed the laws of nature, showing that God is more powerful than even the most destructive forces in creation.

Salvation

Now, although God has the ability to intervene and reverse the laws of nature, and although God has the power to protect us from the raging flood waters, the reality is that sometimes people do die in floods, and many times there are casualties due to hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

We don’t know why God intervenes, rescues and protects certain people in certain circumstances but not in others.

What we do know is that when God steps in and intervenes, when God saves us from death and destruction, that salvation reminds us of the spiritual salvation that Jesus makes available to each and every one of us through his death and resurrection.

You see, each and every one of us will die at one time or another (unless we’re still alive when Jesus returns). Although we will all experience physical death at one time or another, we can experience eternal life through Jesus Christ. And for that eternal life we don’t have to wait until we die – eternal life can start here and now. Jesus said in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Eternal life is about knowing Jesus, and that can start now.

I Thess. 5:9-10 says, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”

And this salvation is available to anyone – it’s not dependent on how righteous or holy we are. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

Notice that it says salvation is “offered” to all people. Although salvation is available to everyone, we must accept God’s gift of salvation in order to receive it.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of the man whose house was flooding, but he refused to be rescued by a rowboat, motorboat and helicopter because he said “God will rescue me from the flood!” When he died and went to heaven, he asked God “Why didn’t you save me?” And God said, “I sent a rowboat, motorboat and a helicopter to rescue you. What more were you waiting for?”

God’s salvation is free and available to all, we just have to reach out and accept it.

And when we do accept it, our lives will never be the same!

Titus chapter 2 goes on to say, “[Salvation] teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:12-14).

I love these verses! Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

John Wesley said it like this:

By salvation I mean, not barely (according to the vulgar [common] notion) deliverance from hell, or going to heaven; but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, its original purity; a recovery of the divine nature; the renewal of our souls after the image of God, in righteousness and true holiness, in justice, mercy, and truth.

So salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die. It’s about living for God here and now, it’s about seeking God’s kingdom here on this earth, it’s about praying for God’s “Kingdom to come” and God’s “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven,” as we pray in the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:10).

When God steps in to intervene on our behalf, when God does a miracle, or when we see God saves us from physical harm or destruction, we can be reminded of the salvation that God has made available to every one of us. There’s nothing we can do to earn it, it is a free gift, we just need to receive it. When we accept that gift, God gives us eternal life, and begins in us the process of transformation to make us more righteous, merciful, truth-filled people who look like Jesus and who are eager to do what is good.

This World Needs God

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the world around us, I think that the world could use more righteous, merciful, truth-filled people who look like Jesus and are eager to do what is good. Sometimes it seems like our world is drowning, like the flood is trying to engulf us, the torrent is sweeping over us and the raging waters are threatening to sweep us away, as in Psalm 124.

And I’m not just talking about all of the rain and flash-flooding that we’ve been getting this year! I’m talking about the how we’re being flooded with partisan politics. I’m talking about the torrent of anger and division that is sweeping over this nation, and the raging flood waters of lies that are threatening to sweep us away.

And one of the ways we saw this demonstrated this week was in the confirmation hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Now don’t worry, I’m not trying to take this sermon in a political direction. I honestly have no idea who is lying and who is telling the truth! But I think it’s obvious that someone must not be telling the truth. The stories are so drastically different, they obviously can’t both be right. In truth, there is a lot at stake for both of the individuals involved, and from watching clips from the hearing it’s obvious that there are a lot of feelings and emotions on both sides. And for some of you this whole discussion might bring up some very personal feelings for you as well.

But this is not just a story of what happened or didn’t happen between two teenagers 35 years ago. It’s representative of the way that men so often mistreat women, of how readily many people will lie to cover up the truth, and of just deep and wide the political divisions are within our country.

To me, Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing reveals just how much our world needs God. Because unless God steps in to save us, the divisions, the hatred, and the anger is just going to continue to grow. The flood waters just might engulf us, the torrent might sweep over us and the raging waters might sweep us away.

Fortunately, God is in the business of salvation and transformation. God can transform both individuals and this world. I believe that there is hope, that God can redeem our society, that the truth can break through.

This morning I want us to pray, that God would make us to be people of integrity, that God would save us and our country from the political divisions that are threatening to overwhelm us, and that God will put us on the right path to be a society that is righteous, just, and truth-filled. Let us pray that God would save us, both individually and as a nation!

More Than Words

September 23, 2018, Pastor Galen

Psalm 1, James 3:13-18

Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:1,2-3a)

I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who cannot sit still for very long. My mind is always racing, I’m always thinking about the next thing, so the idea of meditating on God’s law day and night makes my head spin. I work with a group of law students, and I see colossal textbooks that they carry around. Let’s just say there’s a reason that never studied law.

It’s even difficult for me to focus in prayer for very long, especially if I’m just sitting by myself in my room. I need to be out in nature — often I pray while going for a run, or I take a walk and talk to God while experiencing God through nature.

Fortunately, I’ve noticed that nature is one of the ways that God speaks to us. Sometimes God speaks to us through the Bible, sometimes through a still small voice, and sometimes it’s through things that happen in the world around us.

I’m Not A Tree

Several years ago, I was down in New Orleans for a conference related to my campus ministry job. We were given some time during the conference to go and be alone with God, so I went outside and took a walk, and eventually sat down underneath the shade of this gorgeous gigantic tree. I sat with my back leaning up against the trunk of the tree, praying and journaling and talking with God. A few yards in front of me there was another tree, almost identical to the one I was leaning against. These were beautiful trees, with branches reaching up to the sky. They must have been around for over a hundred years.

As I sat there praying and talking with God, I stared at the beautiful tree in front of me. While I was praying, I was asking God to show me what God wanted me to do in the next season of my life. I was in a time of discernment in ministry, I’d been doing college campus ministry for quite a few years, and I was considering moving into a church ministry role, but I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do next.

As I was praying and looking at that tree, I was thinking about how solid the tree was. And I thought to myself, “You know? Maybe God is saying that I’m somehow like that tree! Maybe God is saying that God has made me to be a pillar in my community. People are counting on me and relying on me, and I just need to stay firmly rooted and grounded where I am. God just wants me to stay put, to just be faithful, and stay where I am. I don’t need to get up and move anywhere, I’m already where God wants me to be.”

And as I was just sitting there, sort of relishing in this thought that I was like that tree, thinking about how faithful and solid I am, I began to feel this prickling sensation all over my body. Actually, it was much more than a prickling — it was more like a burning sensation! It came upon me all at once, and I had no idea what it was. I really hadn’t spent a lot of time down south before, so I was completely unfamiliar with this phenomenon that they have down in New Orleans called the “Red Imported Fire Ant.” Apparently I had sat down on or near a nest of these fire ants, and they didn’t like that I was in their space!

Well, let’s just say that I learned that I was not nearly as rooted and grounded as I thought I was! Unlike that tree, I did not stay put. I took off running, straight to the room where I was staying and tore off my clothes and jumped in the shower.

I wasn’t exactly sure what God wanted me to learn from that experience, but it felt significant. I will say that it was definitely a humbling experience, and I think God was trying to tell me that although it is important to be rooted and grounded in the Word of God, that doesn’t mean we have to stay put. When God tells us to move, we need to move!

But I think the moral of this story for us is that:

  1.    God can speak to us in a lot of different way.
  2.    When God speaks we don’t always hear what we expect or want to hear.
  3.    God has an incredible sense of humor.

To me it is encouraging to know that God can speak to us today, through many different means and in many different ways. We don’t all have to be Biblical scholars – we just need to make time and space in our lives to actually listen to God.

More Than Words

Now, although Psalm 1 exhorts us to meditate on the Law, or Word of God, James 3 reminds us that true wisdom is shown not just in knowledge of the Word, but also through “deeds done in humility.”

In our society, wisdom and knowledge are usually associated with words. We tend to think that someone who is smart or wise always has just the right words to say. To us, a wise person is eloquent, has an exhaustive vocabulary, and the uncanny ability to quote just the right proverb in any given situation.

According to James, however, wisdom is shown through correct actions. James declares that the wisdom that comes from God is peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere.

Why does James challenge our preconceived ideas of wisdom and knowledge? Why does he insinuate that wisdom is more than words?

Well, anyone can memorize intelligent-sounding proverbs. Given enough time and discipline, any of us could enlarge our vocabulary, or learn to arrange words in such a way as to impress others.

But only a genuinely wise person can consistently act wisely, in any situation, when the pressure is on, whether or not anyone is watching.  Not only do wise people act wisely when the pressure is on, but those who are truly wise normally try to avoid situations where they know they will be tempted to make poor choices – which are often when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

But how does one become wise? For that we must go back to Psalm 1 — by meditating on the word of God.

Meditating: Wrestling and Ruminating

Meditating on the word of God day and night of course does not mean that you have to sit still at a desk and study all the time. You don’t even have to find that perfect shade tree to sit under. Meditating on God’s Word entails taking in the Word of God, and then ruminating on it, chewing on it, even wrestling with it.

My favorite questions when I read a Bible passage are:

  1.    What do I like about this passage?
  2.    What don’t I like about it?
  3.    What am I going to do about it?”

Yes, I admit it! Even as a pastor, there’s a lot of passages I don’t like in the Bible. Sometimes I don’t like a particular Bible passage because it’s difficult to understand. Other times because it seems too far-fetched and implausible.

And sometimes, if I’m honest, I don’t like a particular passage of Scripture because I simply don’t want to put it into practice!

But you know, It’s OK to wrestle with God – some of the most godly characters in the Bible wrestled with God — either literally (see Gen. 32:22-32) or figuratively (Moses, Job, Abraham).  And it’s even OK to be angry with God, to question God, to ask God “why do bad things happen”? Again, we’re in good company with the biblical saints when we do that.

I think that it’s when we wrestle with God’s Word, when we ruminate on the Word, when we question God that we become more deeply rooted in God’s Word. If we just take things at face value, then they stay on the surface. It’s only when we wrestle and squirm with the Word that it sinks down deeper into our souls. And it’s when we move beyond the easy, pat answers that we become humbler, more compassionate people.

It All Starts and Ends with Jesus

In the end, though, we find that Jesus is the only one who fits James’s description of one who is truly wise. Jesus is the one who always acted in humility, who was always pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial, and sincere. Jesus is the only one who truly lived a life that was always good and righteous, who never harbored bitter envy or selfish ambition. Jesus is the tree planted by the rivers of water, whose life always yielded good fruit.

As we look at Jesus’ life, we see that Jesus was indeed someone who cultivated wisdom through meditation on God’s Word and through deeds done in humility.

  1. As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus was in the temple “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).  When his parents told him to come home with them Jesus “was obedient to them…And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52).
  2. In Luke 6, “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).
  3. And Acts 10:38 says that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

And so, Jesus is both our role model, and the means by which we can live a life that is righteous and fruitful. We all have been selfish or envious at one time or another. All of us have harbored bitterness, or boasted and denied the truth. We need the grace, mercy and forgiveness that only Jesus can offer. We need Jesus to help us become firmly rooted and grounded, and to make wise decisions, and to bear good fruit.

With Jesus’s help we can become solid, deeply rooted, trees that bear good fruit. With Jesus’s help we can bear “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Through Jesus we can move beyond bitterness, selfishness, and envy. We’ll still make mistakes on this side of heaven, but with Jesus’s grace, mercy and forgiveness we can become people who “sow in peace [and] reap a harvest a righteousness” (James 3:18).